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Apple iPod Flash said to ship January

Into production next month, apparently

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Talk of iPod's rumoured low-cost Flash-based iPod continues with the claim that Apple will put the machine into production next month in a bid to build stockpiles sufficient to satisfy post-Christmas demand.

According to an AppleInsider report citing "extremely reliable sources", Apple wants to have at least 2m of the machines ready to sell before the ship date in order to avoid a re-run of the problems it had meeting demand for the iPod Mini.

That player, a 4GB hard drive-based unit, was announced in January 2004 at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. If the iPod Flash reports are correct, that show seems a likely venue for the new player's unveiling.

The possibility of a Flash-based iPod surfaced in October this year, when Thomas Weisel analyst Jason Pfaum claimed, citing "numerous" Asian sources, that Apple will use MP3 chip maker SigmaTel's controller chip in an upcoming music player scheduled for a pre-Christmas launch. SigmaTel already produces controllers chips for Rio and Creative Flash-based music players. Indeed, it signed a two-year deal with Rio round about the time of the Pfaum report.

Apple's current player controller partner is PortalPlayer, which provides a similar ARM-based SoC product that supports a variety of transports, including Firewire, USB and Bluetooth, and include memory, LCD and other controllers in addition to the audio stuff. PortalPlayer's chips can also control Flash storage.

While the iPod Mini was originally pitched against lower-priced, lower-capacity Flash players, it has essentially built a mid-range niche of its own, rather than hinder Flash-player sales, which continue to be strong, especially in the Far East. Apple may have been dismissive of the segment in the past, but if it's not only to maintain its market dominance but increase it, a move into all parts of the digital music player market make sense, hence the iPod Flash.

It's not hard to imagine a Mini-like device that uses the same screen and controller, but without the hard drive can be significantly thinner - like Creative's MuVo Slim, say. ®

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